BY ANDREW FORRESTER
So why all the doom and gloom? If our Lord and Savior really is risen, and our sins have really been forgiven, why should we be sorrowful at all? During Lent, our preparation for the joy we take in the day of the resurrection, should we not be joyful since we know what’s coming?
Strangely enough, sorrow is something that Christians across all denominations can agree upon. Luther proclaimed, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And the very Church which he was breaking away from now preaches the need for a conversion of heart that “is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).” 
Contrition and sorrow over our sins are not minute points of doctrine but rather fundamental building blocks of our religion. This might rightly seem bizarre to anyone from the outside looking in. Why should a faith that promises eternal life come with so much sorrow?
To understand sorrow, we first need to understand sin. Sin is that which keeps us from full communion with God. Now, God created us to walk with Him day in and day out, embracing His definition of good and evil, trusting Him for all we need, and living eternally in His presence. This is the vision of humanity and the world God created for us, which is laid out in the first two chapters of the Bible.  But not long after the world came into being, Adam and Eve ate from the tree which God forbade them to eat from. They chose trust in themselves over trust in God, and they and all their descendents suffered separation from Him because of it. These are the first three chapters of our scriptures. In the rest of the Bible, God sets to work trying to fix the problem.
Christ came to Earth in the culminating act of the story of redemption to give us a way out of sin. He Himself said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  And He called sinners (read: everyone) to Himself for redemption when He was lifted up on the cross.  How can that be? Our sin, chosen freely and willingly, is the reason we’re dying. And in order to take our sin into Himself, Christ had to suffer the wages of sin, which is death.  For Christ to become like us so that He could grant us life, He had to suffer separation from God. And more than that, we arranged that separation.
Our sin heaps corruption on His head in the moment He cries “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  Our sin puts us in the place of the crowd that shouted “Crucify him!”  It is because of our sin that Christ became sin for us. It is because of our sorrow that He became the Man of Sorrows in our place.
Man of Sorrows, what a name!  And yet how can we know that same man as the Savior of the world? If the story of the Gospel ended with the Man of Sorrows crucified, dead, and buried, He would not be the Savior of the world, and we would have nothing more than sorrow. But the story of the gospel doesn’t end there.
Because Christ is risen, our sorrow is being turned into joy. Indeed “you have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”  And yet in this life we are never totally free from sin. And as long as we remain in that sin—as long as we keep driving the nails deeper into Christ’s hands—we cannot be fully free from sorrow.
Lent invites us to sit in that sorrow for a while, more than we might think to usually: to offer up to God the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart.  In so doing, we begin to imitate Christ, which is the whole of God’s desire for our lives. Lent, from beginning to end, ought to help us understand His sorrow and His heartbreak, because in that way we might begin to understand His joy.
We are an Easter people, not because we have any right to be joyful in and of ourselves, but because our tears are being wiped away. [12, 13] We are an Easter people, not because we are now totally free from sin, but because our bonds to corruption are being broken.  And indeed we are an Easter people, not because we now possess the fullness of life, but because the Man of Sorrows rose from the dead, and that’s the plan for us too.
- Martin Luther, 95 Thesis, Thesis 1
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1431
- Genesis 1-2
- Mark 2:17
- John 12:32
- Romans 6:23
- Matthew 27:46. The quote is, “My God, my God, have you forsaken me?”
- Luke 23:21
- The first stanza of the hymn of the same name sums up the paradox that Christ embodies:
“Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!”
Leave a Reply